2010s TribLive HSSN All-Decade Football Team: Defense

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Friday, January 3, 2020 | 7:30 PM


When the NFL playoffs arrive this weekend, three WPIAL defensive stars from the past decade will be in uniform, a testament to the football talent Western Pennsylvania produces.

But that’s not what earned them their recognition here.

As high school players, Thomas Jefferson’s Chase Winovich, Woodland Hills’ Quinton Jefferson and McKeesport’s Branden Jackson already stood out among the area’s top defensive talents. They’re joined here by a collection of the best linemen, linebackers and defensive backs to play on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons in the WPIAL and City League from 2010-19.

Here’s a look back at the All-Decade Team as chosen by TribLive HSSN.

Defensive line

Quinton Jefferson

Woodland Hills, 2010 (senior season)

Jefferson, who starts at defensive tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, had 16 sacks as a senior at Woodland Hills. The Wolverines reached the WPIAL finals in both his junior and senior seasons. The three-star Rivals recruit chose Maryland over Pitt, Cincinnati and Iowa. He had 107 total tackles and 10½ sacks in four seasons with the Terrapins. He was a fifth-round NFL draft pick in 2016 and has played 39 games for the Seahawks.

Watch Quinton Jefferson highlights

Delvon Simmons

McKeesport, 2010

Simmons was a disruptive force on McKeesport’s defensive line. Rivals rated him as a four-star recruit and fifth nationally among defensive tackle prospects. He drew more than a dozen college offers including Florida and Oregon. He played two seasons at Texas Tech before transferring to Southern Cal. He made 57 tackles including 10 tackles for loss as a USC senior in 2017.

Watch Delvon Simmons highlights

Kurt Hinish

Central Catholic, 2016

Hinish had 59 tackles in his final two high school seasons and Central Catholic reach the state finals both years. The Vikings were PIAA runners-up in 2015 and state champions in 2016. The three-star Rivals recruit, who had more than a dozen offers including Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia, chose Notre Dame. He started all 13 games this season as a junior for the Fighting Irish.

Watch Kurt Hinish highlights

Devin Danielson

Thomas Jefferson, 2017

Danielson was a two-way standout who led the Jaguars to three consecutive WPIAL titles. He was a four-year starter on the line, a rarity under coach Bill Cherpak, and finished with 19 career sacks. The three-star Rivals recruit chose Pitt over offers from Michigan State, Syracuse, Wisconsin and others. Danielson appeared in 13 games this season as a sophomore.

Watch Devin Danielson highlights

The decade’s next best

Treyvon Hester, Penn Hills, 2011

Jawan Turner, Woodland Hills, 2012

Donovan Jeter, Beaver Falls, 2016

Dayon Hayes, Westinghouse, 2019

•••

Linebacker

Branden Jackson

McKeesport, 2010

Jackson, who plays defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, was a talented linebacker for McKeesport. He combined with former Tigers teammate Delvon Simmons to form a powerful tandem. The three-star Rivals recruit chose Texas Tech over offers from Pitt, West Virginia, Oregon and others. He made 135 tackles in four seasons with the Red Raiders. Signed into the NFL as an undrafted free agent, Jackson has played 39 games in four seasons.

Chase Winovich

Thomas Jefferson, 2013

Winovich made 149 tackles, 22 sacks, recovered seven fumbles and intercepted a pass in his Thomas Jefferson career. He had 57 tackles and 13 sacks as a senior. The four-star Rivals recruit was ranked as the 20th-best outside linebacker nationally. He went on to become a four-year letterman at Michigan, a two-time All-Big Ten honoree (2017-18) and a third-team All-American in 2018. He made 185 tackles in 45 games for the Wolverines, and was drafted in the third round by the New England Patriots in 2019.

Watch Chase Winovich highlights

Kaezon Pugh

Aliquippa, 2015

Pugh’s efforts on both sides of the football took Aliquippa to the state finals in 2015. He carried 273 times for a WPIAL-best 2,451 yards that season and scored 35 touchdowns. But his pass-rushing strength at outside linebacker also was key in winning the WPIAL title. The Quips reached Heinz Field in all four of his seasons. The four-star recruit had two dozen college offers. He spent one redshirt season at Pitt before transferring to Howard.

Watch Kaezon Pugh highlights

David Adams

Central Catholic, 2016

Adams had 160 tackles and nine sacks in his junior and senior seasons as Central Catholic’s middle linebacker. The Vikings reached the state finals both years. As a senior, Adams had 84 tackles and became the program’s all-time tackles leader. He was ranked as the ninth-best inside linebacker prospect by ESPN and committed to Notre Dame. Injuries cut short Adams’ college career before playing a game for the Fighting Irish.

Watch David Adams highlights

The decade’s next best

Mike Caprara, Woodland Hills, 2011

T.J. Neal, McKeesport, 2011

Dakota Conwell, Upper St. Clair, 2011

Todd Hill, Steel Valley, 2018

•••

Defensive back

Montae Nicholson

Gateway, 2013

Nicholson, who starts at safety for the Washington Redskins, had 123 career tackles, four interceptions and five defensive touchdowns for Gateway. As a senior, he made 72 tackles and added 41 receptions for 810 yards and 11 more scores. The three-sport athlete also lettered in basketball and track, where he was a state-champion hurdler. Nicholson had 200 total tackles in three years at Michigan State and has 137 in three with the Redskins.

Watch Montae Nicholson highlights

Jordan Whitehead

Central Valley, 2014

Whitehead had 35 touchdowns as a senior and scored them in five different ways including interception, punt and kickoff returns. He also had 97 tackles and seven interceptions that season, along with 1,933 rushing yards. Rivals ranked Whitehead as the nation’s sixth-best cornerback in his graduating class. He committed to Pitt over offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and others, and twice earned All-ACC honors for the Panthers. He’s made 25 NFL starts since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him a fourth-round draft pick in 2018.

Watch Jordan Whitehead highlights

Khaleke Hudson

McKeesport, 2015

Hudson was a star running back for McKeesport and rushed for more than 2,200 yards and scored 41 touchdowns combined in his junior and senior seasons, but it was clear his future was defense. He made 60 tackles as a senior and intercepted three passes, two he returned for touchdowns. The three-star Rivals recruit picked Michigan, made 36 starts at linebacker for the Wolverines and earned All-Big Ten honors three times. He made a team-leading 97 tackles this season.

Watch Khaleke Hudson highlights

Paris Ford

Seton LaSalle/Steel Valley, 2016

Ford returned six interceptions for touchdowns during his senior season as Steel Valley romped to undefeated WPIAL and PIAA Class 2A championships. The Ironmen won all 15 games by the mercy rule. Ford scored 22 touchdowns that season and in five different ways. Among them was a fumble return and punt return for touchdowns. Rivals ranked Ford at No. 51 overall nationally. He led Pitt with 86 tackles this season and earned All-ACC honors.

Watch Paris Ford highlights

The decade’s next best

Malik Hooker, New Castle, 2013

Damar Hamlin, Central Catholic, 2015

Kenny Robinson, University Prep/Imani Christian, 2016

Daequan Hardy, Penn Hills, 2018

•••

Return specialist/multi-purpose

M.J. Devonshire

Aliquippa, 2018

Opposing teams schemed ways to keep the football away from Devonshire. As a senior, he returned eight punts for touchdowns, one short of tying a national record. Five others were called back by penalty. The star defensive back helped Aliquippa win WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A titles in 2018. He scored 24 touchdowns that season and had nine scoring plays that stretched 50 yards or more. The four-star recruit appeared in three games for Kentucky as a freshman this fall.

Watch M.J. Devonshire highlights

The decade’s next best

Lafayette Pitts, Woodland Hills, 2010

Mike Merhaut, Pine-Richland, 2014

Johnny Petrishen, Central Catholic, 2014

Josh Casilli, Peters Township, 2019

•••

TribLive HSSN All-Decade Team

2010s All-Decade Offense

2010s All-Decade Defense

2010s All-Decade Coaches

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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